There’s beauty in life. There’s darkness in death. For Swallow the Sun creative force Juha Raivio, his world is the reverse. The Finnish songwriter is funneling the darkness in life and the beauty in death on new album, When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light. While much of the impressive, three-album saga Songs from the North I, II & III was inspired by the old forests of Sweden’s midlands, Swallow the Sun’s seventh album (10th if Songs from the North I, II & III and The Plague of Butterflies EP count) is directly informed by the loss of life partner and singer/songwriter Aleah Stanbridge (aka Aleah Starbridge). Raivio spent many months in the shadows, coping, trying to understand, wishing his loved one a safe journey into the glory of her next life. But when the inspiration finally hit Raivio, the maestro conceived and wrote nine songs over the course of three weeks. The result is a spectacular heart-string pull carefully ferried across a hopelessly scenic set of songs that transcend the boundaries of doom, death, and black metal. The title “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” draws from a key line in Trees of Eternity’s “Broken Mirror.”
“Every word and note I wrote, I wrote for Aleah,” says Raivio from his home in Jyväskylä, Finland. “And about my own battle since she passed. The album title, When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light, comes from Aleah’s own words, ‘When a shadow is forced into the light.’ That was exactly what I needed to do. To push myself out from the shadows. I’ve been pretty much a hermit in the woods for two and a half years. Gathering my life to write this album. That’s also why the subject is very personal and therefore hard for me to talk about. I’d rather leave it all to the music and words on When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light to tell the story. It’s all there.”
With Raivio’s inner core exposed for all to see, comment on, feel, ask questions of, and experience, it’s no wonder When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light is a difficult topic to relive. But as Raivio has said, it’s all there, out in the open. From the absolute stunning lead-off title track to the fragile massiveness of “Never Left,” Swallow the Sun have crafted a filmic masterpiece around Raivio’s bereavement and subsequent journey through it. In fact, they’ll preface When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light with a non-album EP called “Lumina Aurea”, which is, according to Raivio, the darkest and most painful song in Swallow the Sun’s history. Featuring Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and The Foreshadowing’s Marco I. Benevento “Lumina Aurea” will bridge the utter gloom of Raivio’s despair with the promise of coming to terms with it.
“‘Lumina Aurea’ is a song I would never want to write in my life,” Raivio says. “It is an open, bleeding black wound from the last two and half years of my life. But I had to write it out. I could not back down from it. The way I wrote and recorded ‘Lumina Aurea’ was so rough emotionally and physically that I think I will never talk about it public. I know this road will go on forever as a part of me, but I have also made a peace with it—that I will never have peace with it. And that the life and the journey here must still go on for a while for those of us remaining. I knew that if I would go any deeper on that road with the album as I did with ‘Lumina Aurea,’ the path would not end well. So, I quickly realized that instead I will write an album that will manifest loud and clear that after all, ‘Love is always stronger than death.’ I wanted to find that angle for When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light. This album is like a weapon for myself. A burning light, a burning torch. Victorious and proud.”
Over the last few years, Swallow the Sun have experienced several lineup changes. Drummer Kai Hahto departed in 2015 for Nightwish, keyboardist Aleksi Munter jettisoned the music industry altogether in 2016, while long-time guitarist Markus Jämsen issued his farewells in 2018. Yet, the venerable Finns have carried on, finding suitable and likeminded replacements for all in short order. That trend continues with Munter and Jämsen’s permanent replacements in new keyboardist Jaani Peuhu (of Iconcrash fame) and guitarist Juho Räihä (also of Hallatar). The addition of Peuhu and Räihä was both logical and talent driven. Peuhu and Swallow the Sun go back years—Peuhu contributed vocals to Hope centerpiece “Don’t Fall Asleep (Horror Pt. 2)”—while Räihä served valiantly as Jämsen’s sideman during Raivio’s self-imposed hiatus.
“The most important thing is this: Juho and Jaani are such great and wonderful people,” says Raivio. “It is hard to find warmer and friendlier guys than these two. That goes beyond playing skills. Luckily, they are also amazing musicians. They will both bring additional vocal layers when we play live, too. Juho and Jaani will bring lots of good, new things to the Swallow the Sun family.”
“When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” was recorded and engineered over a six-month period by Raivio, Peuhu, and studio maven Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios (Arch Enemy, At the Gates). The entire affair was mastered by ace Tony Lindgren (Orphaned Land, Leprous). Going back to debut The Morning Never Came, Swallow the Sun have never settled on substandard production values. That holds true with “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light”. From the intensity of Mikko Kotamäki’s screams (check out “Upon the Water”) and the nuances of the string quartet to the height of Raivio’s wall of guitars and the considerate dexterity of Juuso Raatikainen’s drum work (check out “Never Left”), the production quality of “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” is enchanting at all levels.
“Jens actually sent a message to me one day and said that he would be happy to do some doomish grooves again with us,” Raivio says. “And if someone as legendary as Jens sends you a message like this, then you have to do it. Also, it has been 10 years since we did New Moon with him, so it felt totally right to get back together. I did the Trees of Eternity album with him and I just love the guy. So, I was very happy that he was involved again with “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light”. I will say, we produced this album by ourselves like we have always done. But the difference is this time we looked at the big and small details of the music. We really demanded everything from everyone. And we got it.”
The covers for Lumina Aurea and When A Shadow Is Forced Into Zhe Light were created by Russian artist Liga Klavina and French artist Fursy Teyssier (also of Les Discrets fame), respectively. The two pieces were commissioned by Raivio to visually communicate the story arc of the soul-killing blackness of nothingness to the blinding light attributed to love. The breathtaking cover for Lumina Aurea will be part of the digital and vinyl-only release, while the wondrous cover for When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light will unfold majestically across digital, CD, and LP.
“Klavina painted the Lumina Aurea cover with water colors,” says Raivio. “The woman on the boat is touching the water, turning it into gold. So, the cover is connected to the story on many levels. As for Teyssier, he was involved in the Trees of Eternity and Hallatar covers, so it was natural to include him on When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light. He knows my story very well—we’ve talked for hours about it. I will say there’s a lot of hidden meaning in the three covers he’s done for me. If you look at the When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light cover, there’s a masked female warrior. She’s cut the black wings off the demons around her. Actually, she’s standing on top of a pile of demon wings on the water. The wings are bleeding gold into the water.”
As for where Swallow the Sun go from here—truthfully, after Songs from the North I, II & III Raivio wasn’t certain he’d continue the band—it’s only upward and onward. Musically, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is unparalleled in its wide-angle vision, its emotional depth, and its ability to be extreme at opposite ends of the spectrum. What Ghosts of Loss was to the mid-aughts (a heralded death-doom triumph), When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is to the present day, a must-hear tour de force of heart-rending metal the likes of which only Swallow the Sun are emotionally willing and technically capable. The desolation is real. “Lumina Aurea” is proof of that. So too is the assurance that love will conquer loss, and that, at the very least, the vision of Swallow the Sun will continue to endure with When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light.